SJCPD: Driver had ‘no signs’ of intoxication prior to fatal crash last month

Published: Mar. 10, 2021 at 6:18 PM EST
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SOUTH BEND, Ind. (WNDU) - In a call to St. Joseph County Police dispatch last month, a complainant reports a crash.

In it is 32-year-old Stephen Stopczynski of North Liberty, who the caller says looked to be visibility drunk behind the wheel on the afternoon of February 5th.

“Hey it’s going to be at at Pine & Crumstown Highway. At the corner, there is a male-white, in a white Buick car; He just crashed into a ditch. The complainant is not involved, but stopped to check on him. He states that he is visibly intoxicated and trying to leave the scene. Pine and Crumstown,” a dispatcher told responding St. Joseph County Police officers.

But after arriving to the scene, police say they “didn’t have enough probable cause to believe Stopczynski was intoxicated and thus, could not require him to take a breathalyzer or field test.”

Instead, officers let Stopczynski go after he refused to consent to voluntarily take a breathalyzer test.

SJCPD’s Troy Warner says in part “...officers wanted Stopczynski to leave the car for now and have someone give him a ride. Officers then waited while someone came and picked up Stopczynski and then drove him away.”

According to police, Stopczynski reportedly received a ride and left in a white pickup truck around 3:47 p.m.

However, three hours later later, Stopczynski reportedly returned to his vehicle and drove a half mile down the road where he would ultimately crash head on into an SUV at approximately 7:47 p.m., killing himself, seriously injuring 13-year-old Giuliana Mendez, and leaving her mother and four siblings with minor injuries.

The Mendez family tells 16 News Now they are unhappy with how the investigation was handled.

The St. Joseph County Prosecutor’s Office saying because Stopczynski, the driver responsible for the crash has died, no criminal charges will be filed in this case and the investigation is over.

A summary timeline provided by the St. Joseph County Police Department Wednesday reads:

Summary of encounter with County Police by Stephen Stopczynski on the afternoon of Friday February 5, 2021.


Friday February 5th at 3:02 p.m., County Police were dispatched to a traffic accident call near the intersections of Pine and Crumstown Roads. Dispatch informed officers the 9-1-1 caller stated a white Buick car had crashed into a ditch. Dispatch also informed officers the caller stated that she had stopped to check on the driver and she believed the driver to be intoxicated and trying to leave. Dispatch further informed officers the caller stated it appeared there were no injuries and that the caller had already left the scene. Then, at 3:09 p.m. dispatch radioed out to officers that it was not known if the Buick and the driver were still on scene.

When County Police officers arrived on scene at 3:15p.m., the Buick was attached the tow line of a tow truck and the tow truck was finishing pulling the Buick on to the driveway of the residence. The caller was not on scene and there were no witnesses to the accident on scene. Officers approached and questioned the driver about the accident. The driver was identified as Stephen Stopczynski. Stopczynski told officers that an oncoming vehicle crossed the center line causing him to lose control of his car and then winding up in the snowbank. He stated he had been unable to get the car out of the snow and had called for the tow truck.

While questioning Stopczynski, the officers also observed his demeanor looking for signs of intoxication and impairment. The officers did not detect any signs of intoxication; no slurred speech, no blood shot eyes and no odor of alcohol or cannabis. The officers also did not witness him driving and did not have any witnesses on scene who had. The officers noticed that Stopczynski appeared nervous and shaky. However, other than his shaking, his speech and body control were normal. Given the cold temperature, the shaking was not outside of normal behavior.

County officers did not have probable cause to believe that Stopczynski was intoxicated and could not require him to take a portable breathalyzer test (PBT) or field sobriety test. Probable cause is required. One officer then told Stopczynski that a caller thought he was intoxicated and asked Stopczynski to perform a PBT. Stopczynski refused to consent to a PBT. The officer then informed Stopczynski since someone called suspecting intoxication, coupled with the facts that Stopczynski refused the PBT and seemed nervous, the officer wanted Stopczynski to leave the car for now and have someone give him a ride. The homeowner gave permission for the car to stay on their property. Officers then waited while someone came and picked up Stopczynski in pick-up truck at approximately 3:47 p.m. The white Buick was left at the scene in the driveway. At approximately 7:47 p.m. Stopczynski was driving the white Buick while involved in an accident resulting in his own death.

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